There's something special about symbolic scripture stories - they seem to teach on multiple levels and across varying circumstances.
Lehi's vision (1 Nephi 8) is both inspired and symbolic so it's rich in revelation potential. Each time I study it I learn something new. During our mission, we spent an entire mission tour of four-hour zone conferences pondering, discussing and analyzing this vision. I think it was one of our most powerful spiritual experiences. Every time I mention that conference to one of the returned missionaries they say it was their favorite.
(Boom des Levens = Tree of Life in Dutch - painted by Elder Koenen)
We chose Lehi's dream as the theme of our staycation.
With the missionaries, we started our study by having them write down an answer to the question, "what keeps you up at night?" That's probably not a great question for missionaries since they rarely have trouble falling asleep. But they were able to identify their pressing questions, write them down and, in the process of the conference, many were blessed with answers through personal revelation.
In our family gathering, we asked the question: What can we do to keep our family spiritually safe and happy?
Taking questions to the scriptures and then continuing to develop questions while studying is, for me, a key to personal revelation.
So this description will be mostly questions - with just a few answers.
We started by slowing down, reading carefully, and identifying what happened each step of the way
First - Lehi's experience, step by step (1 Ne 8:4-18)
- saw a dark and dreary wilderness
- man in a robe came to him
- invited Lehi to follow him
- found himself in a dark and dreary waste
- traveled many hours in darkness
- saw a tree whose fruit was desirable for happiness
- went forth and ate the fruit
- found it was most sweet and white
- filled his soul with joy
- wanted his family to partake
- beckoned and called them with a loud voice
- some came, some did not
Questions that came up
- Why did Lehi have to spend hours in darkness?
- What helped him escape the darkness?
- What does the fruit represent? (see 1 Nephi 11:8-22)
- Why did he stay positioned at the tree instead of leaving to go get his family?
- What is the significance of beckoning and calling? How are they different?
- What can we learn about a father's role from Lehi's experience?
One answer that struck me
The tree represents the love of God through the gift of his Son (see 1 Nephi 11) and the fruit can be a symbol for the Atonement. So as I considered why Lehi didn't go get his family, I realized the most important thing he could do for them was to stay close to the tree himself. He told them the way (called in a loud voice) and showed them the way (beckoned). But he didn't leave. So what do I need to do as a parent and grandparent to keep my family safe? The same thing. Receive the blessings of the Atonement in my life and then, by teachings and example, help my family receive those same blessings.
Elder Eyring often teaches about helping others come closer to Christ. He said, "To begin with, you recognize that what people choose to do, and what the Savior has done, will matter more than what you do. But there are things you can do to make it more likely that they will make the choices that will move them toward eternal life (To Touch a Life with Faith, Henry B Eyring, To Draw Closer to God, p 183-191)."
Here are some of those "things you can do" according to Elder Eyring:
"You can help with your example. If you love them because you feel God's love for them, they will feel that. If you are meek and humble because you feel your dependence on God, they will sense that, too. In addition to your example, you can teach the word of God to them in a way that is more likely to give them a desire to repent and to try to live it. They may think they have heard preaching enough. But they must do more than hear the word of God; they must plant it in their hearts by trying it. You can make that more likely if you talk with them about it in a way that helps them feel how much God loves them and how much they need God (To Touch a Life with Faith, Henry B Eyring, To Draw Closer to God, p 183-191)."
Isn't that just what Lehi did?
A picture I love
"And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen. And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy" (1 Ne 8:11-12)
Can't you just feel the sweetness of the fruit?
Sometimes I think about this image during the sacrament ordinance.
We did the next part of our step by step analysis by identifying what happened to each of the four groups of people identified in Lehi's dream.
- group 1 - verses 21-23
- group 2 - verses 24-28
- group 3 - verse 30 and the last part of verse 33
- group 4 - verses 31-32
We ended up with a chart on the board that looked something like this (click to see larger):
Now the fun starts!
We asked questions like these:
- What is the same among the groups?
- What is different?
- Is there anything unique to group 3 that would explain why they were able to stay at the tree?
Different ideas came up every time.
A few things that I keep thinking about
1) Three out of four groups pressed forward towards the tree. Most people in this world are seeking for something. "For there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it (D&C 123: 12)" Isn't missionary work important? The tree is there - we just need to help others find the way.
2) Holding the rod, representing the word of God, is essential but not sufficient for us to stay stong. The quality of that holding process was different between group 2, who looked around right after eating the fruit, felt ashamed and fell away and group 3, who didn't heed the mocking.
So what is the difference between 'clinging' and 'continually holding fast'?
Here's an image that represents 'clinging' to me
It's kind of like holding on for dear life!
On of our sons admitted that he was reading the scriptures in that way - leaving it to the end of the day, rushing through, doing it out of duty - that's clinging.
For some reason, when I picture 'continually holding fast' I think football
He's certainly not clinging! Go BYU - Saturday against Oklahoma!
3) Only group 3 'fell down' before partaking of the fruit. What does that mean? And how does it relate to staying strong?
We found a number of instances in the scriptures when people fell down. Here's one:
"And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had made an end of speaking the words which had been delivered unto him by the angel of the Lord, that he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them (Mosiah 4:1)."
'Falling down' seems to represent an attitude of reverence. I wonder if 'continually holding fast' to the word fosters falling down. I'm not sure - but I certainly want my family to 'fall down' before the tree. I need to spend more time studying what it means to fall down.
Here's a wonderful Minerva Teichert (one of my favorite Church artists) painting of 'falling down'
That's probably enough of my own thoughts. Answers to questions are there just waiting to be discovered. Studying Lehi's dream blessed our missionary friends and hopefully, will help our family always stay close to the tree.
One more thing - a great follow up study to Lehi's dream is Alma 32. If we do the right things, we can have a tree within us! Just like Lehi in this wood carving:
"But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.
And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.
Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you (Alma 32:41-43)."